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Prescription Drug Abuse

4/16/13 5:20pm

Can This High-Tech Pill Dispenser Curb Addiction?

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The dispenser is pillage-proof. Photo via

Over 100 people in the US die of painkiller overdoses a day, but students at Brigham Young University hope their new high-tech pill dispenser can help bring these numbers down. “The fact that there isn’t a solution to the drug overdose epidemic really drove us,” says Dallin Swiss, a student on the design team. “This provides a missing piece to that national dilemma, and so it matters whether or not we succeed.” Their creation, dubbed the MedVault, is made to safely and securely seal away meds, only dispensing a dose as programmed by a pharmacist over the internet. To make sure no one steals a patient's meds, an access code must also be entered every time it's opened. The case itself is tamper and break-resistant, and ideally a pharmacist could see if the case has been tampered with when the patient brings it in for a refill. “Once narcotics leave custody of the pharmacist and pass into the hands of the consumer, there are no safety mechanisms to keep the patient on their prescription regimen,” says Chris Blackburn, the paramedic sponsoring the project. “The Med Vault is designed to combat the abuse, misuse, overdoses and fraud associated with those drugs.” As of now, their working prototype can only dispense one pill of any size at a time.

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By Bryan Le

addiction in prison

4/16/13 3:15pm

Cameron Douglas Loses Appeal for Shorter Sentence

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Addiction in prison isn't pretty.
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Cameron Douglas will have to serve his full sentence of 9.5 years in prison, after an appeals court denied his request for reduced time. The son of actor Michael Douglas and longtime addict is serving an "unusually long" sentence after his numerous attempts to smuggle drugs into prison. Douglas, 34, will not be eligible for release until 2018, even though a group of addiction experts have advocated on his behalf after he was given one of the harshest sentences ever recorded for drug possession in prison. Judge Gerald Lynch has denied the most recent appeal, claiming that Douglas "has shown himself to be a poor candidate for treatment or leniency." Lynch, and another judge in the trial, Guido Calabrasi, were among the group of advocates who urged Congress to reform their policies on drug crimes and give non-violent offenders treatment instead of prison time. However, "we are not permitted to treat this question as a medical one, although, in some sense, it is," wrote Calabrasi. "The multiple costs of our imprisonment approach—including the expense of filling our prisons with drug addicts, to mention just a base economic cost—impel me to express the hope that Congress may someday seek out a different way of dealing with this problem." Douglas was arrested in July 2009 for selling meth and placed on house arrest, but later sentenced to jail time after his girlfriend was caught smuggling him heroin. His initial sentence of five years was doubled after Douglas was caught arranging to get drugs in prison on numerous occasions. Last December, Douglas suffered a broken leg and finger after prison mobsters put a $100 bounty on him for "ratting out" his drug suppliers.

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By McCarton Ackerman

addiction treatment

4/16/13 2:17pm

Will Insured Addicts Overwhelm the System?

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Will there be enough to go around? Photo via

Right now, only about 10% of the 23 million Americans with alcohol or drug problems receive treatment, in part because about a quarter of them are uninsured. But this could soon change. When new health care laws kick in this January, 3 to 5 million people with addiction problems will finally become eligible for insurance coverage. The new law designates addiction treatment as an “essential health benefit” for many plans, provides subsidies for private coverage, and encourages states to expand their Medicaid programs to more working poor individuals. "This is probably the most profound change we've had in drug policy ever," says Michael Botticelli, deputy director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy. "We know one of the most significant reasons for the treatment gap is folks who don't have insurance or who have an inadequate coverage package for substance use disorders."

Still, experts warn that this overhaul may not go as smoothly as planned. Depending on how many states decide to expand their Medicaid programs, the number of people seeking treatment could double, according to the Associated Press. And this surge in new patients could potentially overwhelm the system. "There is no illness currently being treated that will be more affected by the Affordable Care Act than addiction," says Tom McLellan, CEO of the nonprofit Treatment Research Institute and President Barack Obama's former deputy drug czar. "That's because we have a system of treatment that was built for a time when they didn't understand that addiction was an illness." Treatment facilities in two-thirds of the states are already close to or at capacity, so wait lists could reach months or longer. In fact, many rehab centers have been shrinking instead of growing in recent years, due to government budget cuts. "Advocates just get so excited,” says Josh Archambault of the Pioneer Institute, a nonpartisan public policy research center in Boston, “but at some point, reality is going to hit and they'll find it's not all it was cracked up to be."

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By Chrisanne Grise

rehab review

4/16/13 1:00pm

The Fix Debuts Five New Rehab Reviews

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Eating disorder rehab The Victorian. Photo via

Today The Fix publishes five new Rehab Reviews of addiction-treatment facilities across the country: Cumberland Heights, in Nashville; Rock Solid Recovery, in Costa Mesa, Calif.; The Sundance Center, in Scottsdale, Ariz.; Journey Healing Centers, in Cottonwood Heights, Utah; and an updated review of Sober Living by the Sea, in Newport Beach, Calif. The Sundance Center (with its separate executive "Retreat" house) and Journey Healing Centers are run by the same people, while Cumberland Heights is our second review of a rehab (the other being The Ranch) in middle Tennessee. Sober Living by the Sea, meanwhile, gets an updated review to more accurately reflect its primary, residential treatment facilities, including The Fix's first-ever review of a dedicated eating-disorder rehab for women: The Victorian. Last but not least, men-only Rock Solid Recovery is the brother property of women-only Sure Haven, which we reviewed previously. As ever, The Fix spoke to dozens of rehab alumni, getting their take on what it was really like to live, sleep, eat, and—most importantly—get sober at these facilities.

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By Hunter R. Slaton

Ozzy Osbourne

4/16/13 12:05pm

Ozzy Osbourne Reveals Relapse on Facebook

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Ozzy is "trying to be a better person"
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Rocker Ozzy Osbourne posted on Facebook yesterday to acknowledge that he relapsed and is now a month and a half clean. The revelation came after rumors surfaced that he and wife Sharon Osbourne were splitting after 31 years of marriage, and that she had moved out. The pair were reportedly fighting over money after being slammed with a $1.5 million bill and Sharon, who has served as Ozzy's manager for decades, admitted that she lost control of the family finances. In a Facebook post, the former Black Sabbath frontman admitted he had been using again and apologized for his behavior, and how it had impacted his loved ones. "For the last year and a half I have been drinking and taking drugs. I was in a very dark place and was an asshole to the people I love most, my family," he wrote," However, I am happy to say that I am now 44 days sober. Just to set the record straight, Sharon and I are not divorcing. I'm just trying to be a better person. I would like to apologize to Sharon, my family, my friends and my band mates for my insane behavior during this period... and my fans." Ozzy was a notorious drug user throughout the '70s and '80s and underwent numerous stints in rehab, but had been sober for the last several years. This past December, Ozzy acknowledged his issues with addiction and said he was getting help. "I have accepted I have a problem with drugs and alcohol. That's a big stepping stone," he said, "I'm very lucky that I'm still alive and I'm also very lucky I can still put two words together."

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By McCarton Ackerman

Effects of Alcohol

4/16/13 11:01am

Even Beer's Taste Triggers Cravings

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Just a taste? Photo via

Even just the taste of beer can trigger the urge to drink more, a new study finds. Researchers used positron emission tomography (PET), to scan the brains of 49 men as they tasted both beer and Gatorade. They found a rise in dopamine levels in the brain after the men tasted a small amount of beer, even with no intoxicating effects. This response was pronounced in those men who had a history of alcoholism in their family. Dopamine is a brain-chemical associated with pleasure, and many neuroscientists believe it plays a huge role in drug and alcohol cravings. "We believe this is the first experiment in humans to show that the taste of an alcoholic drink alone, without any intoxicating effect from the alcohol, can elicit this dopamine activity in the brain's reward centers," says David A. Kareken, Ph.D., professor of neurology at the IU School of Medicine and the deputy director of the Indiana Alcohol Research Center. “The stronger effect in participants with close alcoholic relatives suggests that the release of dopamine in response to such alcohol-related cues may be an inherited risk factor for alcoholism.” Confirming the results of the brain scans, study participants also reported craving more alcohol after tasting the beer. They did not crave "more" after drinking Gatorade even though many admitted the sports drink did taste better.

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By Valerie Tejeda

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